Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ismail Haniyeh: The Dog that did not Bark in the Night?

I know what you must be thinking: Here is a story unfolding in which Hamas is represented by a cartoon mouse, and then I go and invoke the cat metaphor for Fatah. Where's the dog? Even we overlook the culturally sensitive connotations of these animals (which we do at great risk), then it is becoming apparent that, as far as Hamas policy is concerned, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh may be an example of Conan Doyle's dog that did not bark in the night. After all, by the usual rules of parliamentary politics, if Haniyeh is Prime Minister, then he is his party's chosen leader; so one might think that, if Hamas does something like air a television program on its own station that sparks enough international attention to get silenced by the Information Minister, then the party leader ought to know about it and be prepared to comment. One might interpret his silence as an endorsement of the unity government, placing the interest of the Information Minister before the interests of his own party. We may have evidence of that endorsement in a story that Nidal al-Mughrabi just filed for Reuters. Here is his lead:

Palestinian police began deploying in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday under a security plan that political factions hoped would bolster a coalition government by curbing internal violence.

Security men from both the dominant Islamist Hamas and the more moderate Fatah faction, having often traded fire in recent months of infighting, were expected to fan out together through the troubled territory within 48 hours, an official said.

The deployment was ordered by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who set up a unity government in March hoping to stem the spiraling chaos and soften a Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority.

If one wants to read this optimistically, then it indicates that Haniyeh has decided that securing peace in Gaza through a "unity" police force is more important than a propagandizing cartoon mouse. This could be a good bet. If peace really can be restored, its residents may well be inclined to ignore militant propaganda on the grounds that it would only upset an apple-cart that had finally been righted after considerable time, effort, and pain. If that happens, then Hamas may feel more obliged to pursue its social welfare agenda, on the basis of which its candidates like Haniyeh were elected, and put militant jihad on the back burner, if not forget about it.

By the way, in the interest of sorting out the "sides," this unity police force will take its orders from the Interior Ministry; and the Interior Minister, Khaled Abu Hilal, is an independent, unaffiliated with either Fatah or Hamas. He is also not barking right now. I can understand that: He has to think about more important things, like the effective management of his new police force!

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